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The seventeen-year-old boy stood in the aisle and braced himself as the bus
rocked and squealed against its brakes and then hissed as it pulled to a stop at
the curb. He glanced back at his mother who stood on the sidewalk just inches
from the rear of the bus. The bus puffed a black cloud of diesel exhaust; she
coughed and slapped at it as it enveloped her face. Momentarily the cloud
evaporated, her coughing ceased, and he saw her face freeze into blankness.
Compassion for her warmed him as he watched her. He knew the day ahead was going
to be hard for both of them.
He heard the distant rumble of thunder and saw a light rain sprinkle his mother.
He thought she looked stressed as he watched her breathe in the rain's freshness
and with her hand wipe its moisture off her face as she waddled to the front of
the bus and glanced at its front window. The driver grabbed a clipboard from the
dash and rested it on his apple-shaped stomach and began to write. This
irritated the boy, who was anxious to exit.
He shifted his weight and moved closer to the passenger ahead of him. Finally
the door clattered open and the passengers spewed forth onto the sidewalk. The
boy leaped off the last step and walked toward his mother. She twisted her
fingers as she watched him. Her face became animated. He frowned. Though they
had not seen one another for close to a year, he immediately felt the tension of
the family situation hovering over them.
"Hi, Mom," he said. He felt awkward. He searched for words to say to her but
none seemed right. He felt he should hug her but he knew his mother would pull
away in discomfort. It wouldn't have felt right to him either. They had never
been a family who showed physical affection.
His mother smiled at him. She rubbed her nose. "It's good to see you, Dean," she
said. The rain on her skin sparkled as bubbling droplets flattened and trickled
onto her neck. She brushed back a wet clump of hair that had fallen onto her
face. She stepped away from him and looked up the main street of the small town.
"So how does it feel to be back home," she asked.
"It feels good, Ma." Her smile broadened and he knew he was misleading her into
false hopes so he quickly made himself clear.
"But I'm still not staying. I have to go back to Massachusetts. I've made a home
with Aunt Dell and Uncle Al. I'm happy there. I'm sorry."
She looked into his face. A bolt of lightning flashed behind them and the boom
of thunder seemed to shake the earth. A blast of wet wind whistled in Dean's
ears. He noticed a flash of hurt crossed her face and then immediately gave way
"We better get to the car before we get soaked to the bone," she said.
His stomach tightened. A restleness gripped his insides and then flowed through
him. His hands trembled. He shoved them into his pants pockets.
They silently walked a few steps, both hunched against the pelting rain, to an
old, beat-up car and quickly got in. She wiped the rain from each side of her
face with her shirt sleeves and Dean vigorously shook his head. Droplets
scattered. They dotted the dusty dashboard. The engine knocked and rattled as
its parts struggled to keep the sedan moving as they drove off. The
hole-infested muffler grumbled and backfired. Dean slid down in his seat. The
old jalopy was older than him and though his parents had bought it used seven
years ago, he was still embarrassed to be seen riding in it.
He thought about his home town as his mother drove. Waterside, Maine was fast
becoming a community of upper-middle-class outsiders, most of whom were
transplants from Massachusetts. They were buying up lots of lands from the
natives, land that had often been handed down through many generations.
With the booming economy of the eighties the natives' had found their property
values rapidly increasing and along with the rising values came rising tax
rates. However, their wages remained stagnant. So to pay their property taxes
they sold land. Or, in some cases, one simply couldn't resist a quick forty
thousand, or hundred thousand, or whatever it might bring.
Often acres of field
and woodland were broken into tiny lots of less than a half acre and transformed
into housing developments, many of which teemed with children which in turn
crowded the local schools beyond capacity. All of Waterside's schools,
elementary to high, were surrounded by modular buildings used as classrooms to
hold the extra load of new students. Waterside was a tourist town with many
pristine beaches along its edges. Word spread fast that beachfront property
could be bought here for less than such places as Cape Cod while also providing
less congestion and what many considered a higher quality of life.
It was a beautiful town, and he knew that. But it was no longer home to him.
Massachusetts was his home now.
He thought of his father. He felt apathetic and had turned off all feelings for
the man. Then he thought of his mother, and his apathy turned to concern. His
hands trembled. His mind whirled as he tried to sort his feelings into their
proper slots. He felt like a slot machine whose lever had just been pulled. What
came out of his mind was, as always, mixed. It was rare when he got a jackpot of
matched feelings. This jumble of thoughts had pushed and pulled at him for years
until finally they had converted into an all encompassing major depression that
had taken over his mind and body and had almost destroyed him a year ago.
"How long does Dad have to stay in jail, Mom?" Dean said. His voice held no
emotion. The car's worn shocks squeaked as it jarred its passengers over the
frost heaved roads. It began to pour and the wiper on Dean's side lay dead as the
rain pelted against and streamed down the glass. Everything outside the window
before him became blurred and distorted. His mother clicked on the radio to her
station which played songs from the seventies. She turned up the volume to hear
it over the pinging of the rain against the roof. The Eagles sang a song about a
hotel. His mother hummed along.
He knew the jail was two miles from town, five
miles from their home. It stood on twenty acres alongside the road they now rode
upon which also led to the mall so Dean had passed it many times yet he now
realized he had never really thought about it. What had often snatched his
attention, however, was the beef and dairy farm on the opposite side of the
road. Its fields stretched for two miles. Barbed wire surrounded the perimeters,
enclosing the cattle.
Many times he had wanted to cut it to allow them to run to freedom. He could
sneak into the old farmer's pastures under the disguise of midnight and clip an
open gate into the metal line of confinement. He knew to do so would get him
locked up so he never acted on this desire. Freedom was liberation. Loss of
freedom would kill him.
He realized his mother had not answered him.
"How long is he in for?" he again asked.
His mother glanced at him and forced a smile, revealing a missing front tooth.
He noticed the whitening of her knuckles against the steering wheel. "Oh, he'll
only be in for another twelve days. He didn't run anybody down or nothing like
that. He's already served eight days. I'm so glad you've decided to come home to
see him, Dean. I can tell he's been hurting 'cos you haven't come around to see
him. You know he ain't one to say nothing, but I can tell." She snuffed and
twice tapped the tip of her nose.
"Well, like I said, I'm not staying beyond tonight's bus. I only came to stop
your begging. You know he and I don't get along. I really don't want to see
him." His voice was flat. He knew anger would only upset her and he wouldn't do
that to her. He found it hard to sit still because of the nervous energy he
felt. He ran his fingers through his damp, but almost dry, hair. It was freshly
cut as of last night, but he could feel that it had retained its natural waves
which curled above his ears and all about his head. As his fingers brushed it, a
few brown hairs fluttered to his chest. He felt dampness along the edge of his
bangs and alongside his ears where tiny droplets of perspiration tickled as it
dripped down against his cheeks and forked about the darkening fuzz about his
cheeks and chin.
He knew he needed to begin shaving but he put it off because he thought he
looked older with the budding beard. He remembered that several girls at the
high school he had attended last year while living in Massachusetts, had shown
interest in him, but he had never dated any of them. He had heard two girls say
he was cute. When he looked in the mirror, he could see he was quite good
looking, but while this was important to him, he didn't dwell on it. There were
too many other issues and thoughts crowding his mind. He caressed his chin with
his finger and thumb for a few minutes and then repeatedly zipped and unzipped
his jacket. He felt the confinement of the 78 Buick as he pushed his size 12
sneakers against the floorboard. The sting of perpetual fatigue was felt within
his eyes and he knew their blue coloring was most likely pink tinged and glossy.
Almost instantly the rain stopped and the sun began to shine as a cloud floated
pass it. He observed his mother out of the corner of his eye. She was a big
woman. Just turned forty, last year she had complained to Dean about how she had
put on fifty pounds in the past five years. With the added pounds, her blood
cholesterol and blood pressure had shot up to dangerously high levels, but she
had stopped going to the doctor because she had no health insurance and couldn't
afford the office visits or medications. Fat rolls bulged against her all over
as if struggling for release.
She had huge, hazel, protruding Chihuahua eyes that
had once been attractive within her high cheekbones, but were now engulfed
within fat which rose up and partially enclosed them. Her hair, reddish-orange
streaked with gray, was short, just below her ears, but held a perpetual fuzz
which made it uncontrollable and it tended to shoot up and out of her head. Her
skin suffered from its host's hard life, bad health, and chronic malnutrition,
and had acquired a perpetual orange hue and thickness making her look like a
carrot with her hair as its sprout.
The prison loomed ahead and then as they rounded the bend in the road it was
immediately before them. The thought of seeing his father again overwhelmed
Dean. His heart spasmed, and then with great force, pounded madly against his
chest. His trembling hand dropped the zipper. He gasped for breath. The world
began to spin about him, and then he began to spin within it. He felt a deep
crimson color his neck and scribble up his chin and across his face bringing
with it a heat that wrung sweat from his pores until he felt his skin drool. He
felt he was dying and the car was his casket.
"Damn, pull over, I've got to get out!" he screamed.
His mother immediately pulled over into the first driveway available. It
belonged to a nursing home. Before the car came to a complete stop he flung open
his door and leaped out. He ran to a tree, a massive oak, and leaned his back
into it and gasped for air.
"Dean, what in the world is wrong?" his mother called.
Her voice sounded muffled and far away, like it was being yelled across the
ocean and being carried to him along the roar of breaking waves. He couldn't see
her for his eyes were tightly squeezed shut and all he could see was the panic
within him. It was shooting flames of red against a black background
interspersed with the whirling of his body spinning through the image. He felt
his body fall and crash into the ground. The pain of the fall brought him around
and saw his mother open the car door. He raised his hand to stop her. He felt
his breathing slow and the heat in his face cool. Puzzlement and fear were on
his mother's face when he glanced at her. She, nor anyone else, would understand
what had just happened to her so he would not attempt to explain it even though
he knew he had given her quite a scare. Also, it was very embarrassing. He
walked back to the car and slid in beside her.
"Don't ask questions, Ma, please. Just sit here a few moments before we cross
over into the prison."
He slapped the dashboard in frustration. The radio short circuited. He hit it
again with an extra hard fist pounding and again it came on. Elton John crooned
a song. "Please, Mom, I don't want to talk about it." She snuffed. "Okay, okay.
But a mother worries." Dean rubbed his hand across his face and then brushed it
against his bangs. Up and over. "It's nothing, Ma. Okay? Just give me a few
moments, that's all I ask."
He stared out the window at the nursing home. A resident rolled by in a
wheelchair pushed by an attendant. A belt looped around the resident's waist and
around the back of the chair to hold her in. She fingered and pulled at the
constraint. The attendant grasped her fingers and pulled them away. They passed
Dean's door. The resident glared at him, and then she jerked back her head and
laughed open mouthed at him. She had no teeth; her mouth was a black hollowness.
Dean looked away. Ahead, just beyond the nursing home, was a grammar school.
Children ran and played behind a chain-link fence. Their screaming voices were
filled with excitement. A couple of them played a game of marbles. A group
kicked a ball between one another. One small boy, wearing jean overalls, gave
the ball a good hard kick and it sailed over the fence and rolled toward their
Dean smiled. He remembered playing this game when he was a kid. Sometimes he too
had become over aggressive with the ball. It had been during those moments that
he had pretended that the ball was his father's head. It had always helped for a
few moments, but that was all. He wondered if the little boy had a father like
his own. He jumped out of the car, ran to the ball, picked it up, and hesitated
while he momentarily studied the face of the waiting boy for signs of distress
of the kind that was often deep seated but habitually hidden to outsiders. But
he saw nothing but excitement. The boy smiled and held out his spread arms. Dean
smiled back and threw the ball over the fence. the boy caught it.
"Gee, thanks, Mister," he said. Dean jogged back to the car. "We can go now," he
said. She turned the ignition key and again the jalopy roared and backfired to
life. Soon they arrived at the prison.
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